Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to become a college professor without a Ph.D. College professor requirements vary from school to school. Most often, schools require potential professors to have some kind of advanced degree, such as a Master of Science or a Master of Arts. In artistic fields, you will find it quite common that many professors have a Master of Fine Arts degree, which is a terminal degree and often requires a special capstone project very similar to a dissertation. However, a college professor’s salary may be lower if she has a Master of Arts degree instead of a Ph.D. or other doctoral degree.
It is possible to become a college professor without a Ph.D.
Reasons to Become a College Professor
There are many reasons to choose to become a college professor. While the majority of degrees still have job opportunities outside academia, students may want to become college professors in order to continue pursuing the research they began earlier on in their academic life. Being a college professor can potentially give you the time you need to write a book or to complete a more extended project.
Another reason to become a college professor is if you enjoy teaching. The best professors are enthusiastic about their subject that they love passing on their passion to the next generation. Being able to speak in front of an audience is a key skill when it comes to being an effective college professor. Many professors must lead lectures that require speaking in front of an audience for an extended period of time – as much as several hours! If you want to be a college professor, but you don’t like talking in front of people, you may need to develop that skill before you continue forward in your academic career.
Although some college professors can make more than $100,000 a year, there is no standard college professor salary, so money should not be the deciding factor when you choose a life in academia. Choose to become a college professor because you are passionate about your subject, not because you have no other job prospects. Your lack of enthusiasm will show, and your opportunities in academia will be limited as well.
College Professor Salary
College professor salaries have a broad range. Depending on the professor’s qualifications, which may include their personal notoriety and the level of education they have attained, a university may pay a professor anywhere from a few thousand dollars to teach a class as an adjunct professor upward into the millions for highly skilled professors of surgery and other fields of medicine.
For example, adjunct professors at community colleges in Florida can earn between $2,000 and $3,000 to teach one three-credit-hour class. Lecturers and other professors without tenure generally make less money per year than professors who have earned tenure, but there is a broad range of salaries from subject to subject and between university and university. Knowing how much you want to make as a college professor will help you understand the steps you need to complete to achieve your goals. If you want to make a lot of money as a college professor, you need to pursue a higher degree in a hard science or in medicine.
On the other end of the spectrum, Clinical Professor of Dermatology and Pathology Dr. David Silvers, who oversees the Dermapathology Lab at Columbia University in New York City, earns a whopping $4.3 million annually.
Most college professors who have earned a tenure make between $100,000 and $200,000 annually. However, exact dollar amounts depend on the professor’s specialty, the duties he performs and the university’s endowments for his field.
How to Become a College Professor Without a Ph.D.
Although it is possible to become a professor without a Ph.D., in most fields, your job hunt will be easier if you do have one. There is no list of specific college professor requirements, and hiring guidelines vary from school to school.
To make sure you come out on top, research the background of college professors at schools where you would like to teach. Narrow down your results by only looking at professors who teach in your field of study.
If you want to teach creative writing at the university level, for example, you might not necessarily need a Ph.D. Many professors of creative writing at world-class universities only have an MFA, or a Master of Fine Arts, which is a terminal degree much like a Ph.D. At other universities, you will notice that most professors of creative writing have Ph.D.s. The difference in this particular field comes down to the quality of the candidate’s publications. It is next to impossible to become a professor of creative writing if you have not published a book. Other quality publications, such as the placement of essays or short stories in top-tier literary journals, will help possible candidates for creative writing professorships, but ultimately, they’re not a replacement for a book.
In other fields such as hard sciences like chemistry, the publication of research results in peer-reviewed journals will show your seriousness about your studies and your qualifications to be a professor. Earning grants and other awards will also help your resume rise above the rest.
However, in some areas of study, real-world experience and success is weighed much more highly than either publications or degrees in determining your qualifications to be a college professor. Some fields where real-world success is more important include business and hands-on fields like aircraft mechanics.
Overall, in most fields, qualifications that demonstrate your individual mastery of the field, such as publications, major awards or measurable business success, far outweigh any degrees you have earned when it comes to your success in the classroom.
College Professor Requirements
Most professorship positions garner hundreds of applications. You want your application to stand above the rest. Anything that you can do to show that you are a master in your field is to your advantage.
In general, to become a college professor, you can’t go wrong by earning a higher degree from a top-tier university. A Ph.D. or an MFA is generally required. You will also need publications or worthy real-world experience. If you can show that you have both, your application will rise above the crowd.
Don’t have a Ph.D.? Try to publish as much as you can. Become known as an expert in your field, and you will have an easier time finding a position as a college professor. Although most professors have MFAs or Ph.D.s, some professors only have as little as a bachelor's degree.
In the end, knowing your field and its general requirements for success will go a long way toward helping you reach your goal. Reach out to professors who are doing what you want to do. Most will be delighted to tell you how they achieved their dreams of becoming a college professor. Build relationships with them, and you may soon find that you are on your way to reaching your goals as well.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.